Unification minister asks for U.S. support for family reunions, cross-border cooperation

SEOUL-- Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul has met senior U.S. congressmen in Washington and asked for their support for South Korea's pursuit of cross-border cooperation with North Korea in humanitarian areas, including the reunions of war-torn families, his office said Wednesday.

Kim is currently in Washington on a seven-day trip for an annual peace forum hosted by his ministry and meetings with U.S. government officials and civilian experts to discuss issues related to the Korean Peninsula.

On Tuesday (Washington time), Kim met with Rep. Brad Sherman, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Asia, and had "in-depth" discussions on the need to resolve the issue of reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War, according to Lee Sang-min, the ministry's spokesperson.

"He asked for U.S. congressional support in terms of legislative supplementation in a way that such humanitarian cooperation can move forward well even under the current sanctions regime," Lee told a regular press briefing in Seoul.

South Korea sees the reunions of war-separated families as a key humanitarian issue that needs to be resolved through cooperation with North Korea.

Buoyed by reconciliation last year, the two Koreas held reunions of separated families at the Mount Kumgang resort on the North's east coast for the first time in about three years, but North Korea has stonewalled Seoul's repeated calls for more such events ever since.

Kim also met with Rep. Ted Yoho, a ranking member of the subcommittee, and asked for his interest in Seoul's possible cooperation with North Korea in preventing the spread of African swine fever, the spokesperson said.

In late May, North Korea reported its first outbreak of the animal disease, and South Korea has also reported 14 cases since September. The North, however, has not responded to South Korea's demand for cross-border cooperation in fighting its further spread.

Meanwhile, the minister said he earlier met with U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun and had candid and wide-ranging discussions on the current state of South-North ties, including denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the fate of a tourist resort on North Korea's Mount Kumgang.

The North has recently demanded that Seoul remove all the South-built facilities at the mountain resort, saying it will build a brand new resort on its own, a move seen as an expression of Pyongyang's frustration amid few signs the project will resume anytime soon in the face of Washington-led sanctions against its regime.

His trip also came as Pyongyang is ratcheting up its demand for Washington to drop its hostile policy against the regime before a resumption of any denuclearization talks.

The minister was expected to have a meeting with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during his first trip to the U.S. since taking office in April, but the spokesperson said that they will not likely meet due to scheduling problems.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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